Occupy Wall Street, Faces Of Zuccotti Park: The Woman In Pink

Saki Knafo & Adam Kaufman

Melanie Butler was watching a news clip about Occupy Wall Street in late September when she noticed that all of the demonstrators talking to the reporter were men. "I just kept waiting," she said. "I was counting in my head. Finally a woman came on." The final count: one woman, nine men. "I was enraged," Butler said. "But I knew from myself that when there were reporters in the park or a press conference was called, I wasn't saying, 'I want to speak.' And I'm not a shy person."

Butler, 30, is an organizer for CODEPINK, an anti-war group founded during the run-up to the Iraq War by a cadre of female activists, including Jodie Evans, who ran Jerry Brown's campaign for the presidency in 1992. (Medea Benjamin, another founder, has blogged for The Huffington Post.) Its members are known for their high-profile disruptions of congressional hearings, which occasionally result in arrests, and for their color scheme, which Butler described as disarming. As she put it, "It's really hard to be angry at someone who's wearing a neon-pink feather boa."

After seeing the news clip, Butler held a media training just for women, and it was there that she learned that the problem was even bigger than she'd thought. "It wasn't just the media," she said. "Women were having trouble speaking out anywhere, in any of the discussions."

Butler and Evans stood in Zuccotti Park recently talking about their efforts to get more women involved in the movement. Evans wore a knee-length pink jacket, a pink scarf covered with peace signs, a pink shoulder bag, a floppy pink hat, a pink hip-pouch containing a pink iPod, and a black T-shirt with a Grace Paley quote in pink lettering that read, "The only recognizable feature of hope is action."

Butler was dressed more conservatively: jeans, olive-drab parka. She did have on a pink scarf, which she said she'd found in a box of pink clothes in CODEPINK's New York office.

This is What Displacement Looks Like

Melanie Butler

On Monday I made a second attempt to salvage some of what was seized by the police in their raid of Liberty Square last week. Having already wasted an entire afternoon trekking uptown to the NYC Department of Sanitation garage only to be turned away at the door, and having received plenty of warning about the difficulties of of the process from those who had actually made it inside, I set out early in the morning armed with an mp3 player and prepared to get my zen on.

Five police officers were gathered at the entrance. One searched my bag, confiscating a plastic take-out knife and a fistful of markers (lest I try to claim someone else’s property by writing my name on it, he explained) while another examined my identification. Watching him record my personal information, I couldn’t help but think of the chant I had recited so jubilantly with my fellow “day-oners” – people who had been with OWS since Sept 17th –on our one-month anniversary: “Show me what a no-fly list looks like! This is what a no-fly list looks like!” So much for not getting arrested – I was now officially on record as part of the 99%.

Are We Bonobos or Chimpanzees? Evolution and Occupy Wall Street

Melanie Butler

The Divine Feminine at Occupy Wall Street

Bonobos and chimpanzees, our closest animal relatives, are almost exactly the same type of monkey. They are so similar, in fact, they only became distinguished as separate species in 1929. But chimpanzee and bonobo societies are dramatically different. In chimpanzee culture, males dominate, sex is strictly for reproduction and violence and infanticide are common. Bonobo society, on the other hand, is remarkably peaceful and is characterized by an abundance of recreational sex and strong female bonding. This marked difference is inextricably linked to the relative levels of female interaction in each society. In chimpanzee habitats, where food is difficult to obtain, females spend their time isolated from one another, gathering food and caring for their offspring. Their seclusion leaves them susceptible to violence and allows male chimpanzees ample opportunity to fight and build hierarchies. In bonobo society, where food is abundant and easy to gather, females spend most of their time with each other. Pervasive female bonding obscures paternity lines, removing the incentive for infanticide, and offers protection and support against other forms of violence.

The evolutionary advantages of bonobo lifestyle, well-known among primatologists, served as an introduction to our first Divine Feminine discussion at Occupy Wall Street. Tired of male-dominated spaces and conversations, female occupiers were insisting on the importance of coming together simply for the sake of, well, coming together. Unlike WOW (Women Occupying Wall Street), there was no agenda, no actions being planned. The purpose was solely to meet and share what was on our minds without men present.

To be perfectly honest, I entered my first Divine Feminine discussion out of duty rather than desire. I had more than enough commitments, caucuses and events competing for my time – meeting for meeting’s sake was not a priority. I was also a bit put off by the group’s name, with its whiff of gender essentialism. I was more interested in dismantling gender binaries than discussing estrogen with a bunch of earth mothers.

From the Heart of Liberty Plaza

Melanie Butler

A lot has changed since we started occupying Wall Street 24 days ago. Voices take much longer to echo through the masses of bodies in Liberty Plaza, requiring two or three layers of repetition via the people’s microphone. The kitchen staff, once limited largely to serving the now-famous “occu-pie” pizzas (99% cheese, 1% pepperoni) lovingly designed by Libretto’s, are now cooking full-balanced, vegan meals, composting the scraps, and washing the dishes through an on-site grey-water system. The once-quaint library that started out as a few rejects from someone’s bookshelf is now a full-blown, catalogued institution with sections ranging from anarchism to acupuncture. Celebrities are coming down for the second, third, and fourth visit not to make speeches, but to see how things are evolving.

When Eve Ensler came down for a repeat visit on Saturday night she asked if I could gather some people together to talk after the General Assembly. She and Naomi Klein sat with us on the concrete for the entire General Assembly, patiently listening to over two hours of working group report-backs, announcements, and general housekeeping. When we finally gathered on the steps by the library, Eve asked for ideas on how she could best support us. “Use your voice to say what you see,” said one woman. “Tell people we’re not a bunch of patchouli-wearing hippies doing hula hoops and dancing in a circle.” As everyone laughed, she quickly added, “there is that, and it’s beautiful, but there’s also real process, there’s real community.” “I have to say, more than I’ve seen anywhere” Eve said, nodding. Eve asked us to tell her what brought us here. One woman said she had just wandered over to see what was happening: “I’ve been trying to leave for the past four hours. Every step I take there’s something amazing happening.” As other people shared their stories a plan evolved to bring these “stories from the heart of the park” to a wider audience.

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